I’m glad to see that books about the Beatles, as a group, or as solo artists, are still popular enough to be published. Ringo, as the tile suggests, is a biography of one of the world’s most famous drummers. As an amateur percussionist myself, I’ve long had a special interest in this gentleman, though know/knew very little about him (I’ve been a fan of the music but only recently began reading books about these artists).
Biography Michael Seth Starr mentions right up front that he is not a relation to Ringo, and that the book is not ‘authorized’ or endorsed by Ringo. It is however, clearly a labor of love from someone who respects his subject. And Michael Starr has done a good deal of research and interviews for this book.
Although the book is about Ringo, and not The Beatles, it is impossible to separate the man from his most famous gig and the book does spend a fair amount of time with the Fab Four. Even so, I did learn a few things, which I greatly appreciated. Something I probably should have known, being a so-called fan, but didn’t, was that Ringo was left-handed. Why does this matter?
Ringo was also left-handed, but played his drum kit as he would if he were right-handed, which gave his drum fills a unique, unorthodox, distinctive sound. “I can’t go around the kit. . . . I can’t go snare drum, top tom, middle tom, floor tom,” he said in describing his approach. “I can go the other way. So all these things made up these so-called ‘funny fills,’ but it was the only way I could play. Mine might be strange in its way, but it was my style.
I have noticed many of the other reviews of this book comparing it to other Beatles bios. As someone who has not read everything under the sun about the Beatles, I appreciated what was here, and can’t compare it to previously acknowledged ‘facts’ about the group. But it’s hard to avoid Beatles history if you are a fan of the music, so it was Ringo’s post-Beatles bio that I was very interested in reading.
I never would have guessed that Ringo (like his friend Keith Moon) never kept a drum kit in his house, keeping his work life and personal life separate.
I was not aware of the depths that Ringo had fallen into alcoholism (and I can’t help but wonder if when I saw him on tour with the All-Starr Band, if he had just gotten off the booze, or if he was still drinking) and how volatile his relationship with Barbara Bach was for a time. From what little I knew, I always assumed or imagined their relationship to be sunny at all times. That probably speaks to my lack of fan-obsession.
I was also quite surprised to learn of how well (or how poorly) Ringo’s solo albums sold. Having purchased most of them, I guess I presumed that many people did!
One of the things that impresses me most about Ringo, as a musician, is his sense of collaboration. I know all the negative comments about his drumming, though if you read the last portion of the book of interviews with other musicians about him, you should hopefully realize just how good he is as a drummer. He’s not the flashy, wild, big-solo kind of drummer, but that’s what makes him so successful as part of a group. His work has always boosted the sound, rather than drawing attention to himself. In his own words, as quoted in the book, “I like drumming to be solid instead of busy.” Is he the greatest drummers of all time? No. But he should be ranked highly.
One of the more exciting parts of the biography was a quick moment when Jeff Margolis, who was directing a Ringo specialin 1978, visited Ringo’s house and Ringo gave him a hug and said,
“‘Come on into the music room, I’d like you to meet some friends of mine.’ And I walked in, and there was George, and Paul and John. I almost shit myself. I almost died.”
And having read this biography, I’m more impressed with the man for what he has managed to overcome, even if much of it was brought on by his own actions.
If you’re a fan of the Beatles, or enjoy reading biographies of pop figures, I’d recommend this book. I can’t compare it to any other biographies of the Fab Four, but this definitely serves its purpose of shedding more light on one of the most famous musicians of all time. It isn’t likely to make you like the man more, or less, but it will help you understand what he has gone through over the course of his many years.
Looking for a good book? Ringo, by Michael Seth Starr, is a thorough, well-researched biography that is worth reading.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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Ringo: With a Little Help
author: Michael Seth Starr
publisher: Backbeat Books
hardcover, 256 pages